Yes, we feel deeply for the victims and their families, and we thank our lucky stars it’s not us who have to suffer through it. But we also have a morbid interest in why. Why did that person commit that killing? How could someone like Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire ripper, murder so many women and his wife not know what he was doing? How can someone who ostensibly led a relatively normal life one day take it upon himself to kill six people he worked with because his boss had reprimanded him over something insignificant? Bob Geldof sang about an otherwise normal girl who shot dead numerous victims because ‘she didn’t like Mondays’, but why would she do that, really?
The more we read, the more we want to know, and it seems there are more and more killers we can read about; they seem to be multiplying faster than we can lock them up. Ivan Milat sat rotting in jail in New South Wales until he died, and the common belief is that he killed many more people than the seven he was convicted for, yet he maintained his innocence all the way through. How could he become such a monster? What drove him to kill so many times and then, when caught, not admit it so his victim’s families could get closure? Unless of course, he didn’t do it, but then that would mean the person who did kill those young, mainly backpacking tourists is still out there, killing others……
For me, life is about the journey rather than the destination, and so too with my storytelling. It’s not enough for me to paint a verbal picture of someone who is a serial killer to tell you about his murders and the police’s efforts to stop him. What interests me is the why. Why did he or she become that way? What series of circumstances could take someone from ‘normal’ to a psychotic, calculating serial monster? Is there a human side to him? Is there any way for you, dear reader, to not just sympathize with his plight but also feel something for him? That feeling may be hatred, or could it possibly be something else? Could we feel sorry for him? Surely not. We might despise the murderer for what he does, and we should; there but for the grace of God, etc. But, if we could understand, can we pity him for why he does it? Is it even possible to feel sorry for his tortured soul? Hmmm
Unfortunately, in real life, it’s often never explained in a way we can understand; when was the last time you read about a spate of murders in the Sunday Times over bacon and eggs and thought, ‘Ah, so that’s why’ and turned the page to check the sports scores. We will never know what motivated Ivan Milat to murder people because he refused to talk about it, and if he had, would he have told the truth anyway?
Does it mean pure evil exists just for evil’s sake? I hope not.
I know I will sleep better for believing that there is a system of cause and effect that rules our world. If ‘W’ happens simultaneously as ‘Y’ during a period of ‘Z’, then the resultant behavior is ‘X.’ Yes, I can live with that.
And so we come to fiction, particularly those writers who chose to live in the dark world of murderers as I do occasionally. In a fictional world, at least in one of my stories, I’m going to try to take you inside his or her mind and tell you what led this warped, twisted person to take an axe and dismember nine people in a reign of terror by night while during the day he sold fridges in a white goods shop and played hockey on the weekend.
So, are we sitting comfortably? Is the cat out, the blinds drawn, and the outside light off? Good. Snuggle down, take a sip of your drink, whatever that drink might be, and come with me. Oh, what was that noise? Are you sure the front door is locked?
Stephen B King
Perth. Western Australia.